White (shiroi)

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White (shiroi)

***** Location: Japan
***** Season: Non-seasonal Topic
***** Category: Humanity


According to the Erh Ya, one of the earliest Chinese dictionaries, green is the color of spring, red is the color of summer, white is the color of autumn, and black is the color of winter. The spirit of autumn is clear and white.

World Kigo Database : Wind

. Chinese background of Japanese Haiku .

. Goshiki 五色 the Five Colors of Buddhism .


white color codes

white grey, shiro nezumi


CODE #e0e0d6


Introducing Traditional Japanese Colors

White is part of many kigo. We will explore some here.

Arctic haiku -
the different shades
of white

KIGO for Spring

You all know Valentines Day, but do you know that about one month later, it is all back again, now MEN giving the Girls a return-present.
White Day in Japan, March 14

"white fish", Whitebait shirauo, 白魚

明ぼのや しら魚しろき こと一寸
akebono ya shirauo shiroki koto issun

Matsuo Basho

at dawn -
how white the whitebait
of just an inch
(Tr. Gabi Greve)

Read a discussion of this haiku !!!

KIGO for Summer

White ants (shiro ari ) 白蟻

White night, midnight sun, polar day (byakuya)  白夜

White southern wind(shirahae) 白南風

KIGO for Autumn

white dew, shira tsuyu, hakuro 白露

shira tsuyu to shiranu kodomo ga hotoke kana

the child unaware
of the white dewdrops
a Buddha

Tr. David Lanoue

More Haiku by Issa about White Dew (Japanese)


Autumn Wind, White Wind  

The wind of autumn (aki no kaze, akikaze) is usually associated with the color of WHITE in haiku.

ishiyama no ishi yori shiroshi aki no kaze

Matsuo Basho wrote this haiku at the temple Natadera 那谷寺 in Northern Japan. In the prologue to this haiku, he describes the area with the mountains and white rocks and the various temple buildings in the valley. ISHIYAMA is not a special place name, but the geographical discriptio of the area with its many cliffs.

CLICK to see more Photos !

Depending on the interpretation of the CUT in this haiku, you get two possible interpretations. This haiku is therefore rather difficult to translate.

If you read a cut after line 2, then Basho compares the stone cliffs of this area to the famous ones of temple Ishiyamadera in Omi, adding as a second idea the wind of autumn, which in itself is seen as a "white autumn wind". Thus the juxtaposition (toriawase 取り合わせ, and therefore the haiku) is rather weak, since both parts of the haiku contain the idea of WHITE.
Basho would probably not have thought of this kind of interpretation and comparison.
But many translations have used this interpretation.

If there is no cut at the end of line two, the haiku will contain only one idea (ichibutsu jitate 一物仕立て). The white stone cliffs are the ones of this area in Northern Japan, where Basho is sitting right now. He compares the whiteness of the autumn wind to the whiteness of the cliffs here. We can feel that one whiteness enhances the other.
I try to translate it with this interpretation in mind, spelling the romaji with a small i, ishiyama, to show it is not the famous place name:

ishiyama no ishi yori shiroshi aki no kaze

autumn wind
whiter than the white cliffs
of this mountain -

........... or maybe

autumn wind
whiter than the white cliffs
of this stony mountain -

(Tr. Gabi Greve)

Temple Ishiyamadera 石山寺 and Haiku

Ishiyama, the placename, literally, means "Stone Mountain".
It was here that Murasaki Shikibu started writing her "Tales of Genji", which made this place quite famous in Japanese literature.
Translating Place names

Read more of the discussion about this haiku of Basho here:
Stony Mountain, Ishiyama and white cliffs


Other translations of this haiku
Compiled by Larry Bole

 On the Stone Mountain,
It is whiter than the stones:
Autumnal wind.

Tr. Makoto Ueda, 1970

 whiter than
the rocks of Ishiyama
autumnal wind

Tr. Makoto Ueda, 1992

 Whiter far
Than the white rocks
Of the Rock Temple
The autumn wind blows.

Tr. Yuasa, 1966

 Whiter than stones
of Stone Mountain--
autumn wind.

Tr. Stryk, 1985

 Whiter than the stones
Of the Stony Mountain,--
The wind of Autumn.

Tr. Blyth, 1952

 Whiter than
the stones of Stone Mountain--
the autumn wind

Tr. Addiss, 2002

 a sharper white
than the stones of Ishiyama--
autumn wind

Tr. Haldane, date not available

 Ishiyama stone
Is not so white, and whiter still
Is autumn, windblown!

Tr. Britton, 1974

stones no whiter
autumn's wind

Tr. Corman, 1968

 Even whiter
than the Ishiyama rocks -
the wind of autumn.

Tr. McCullough, no date available

 These stones excel
The stones of Ishiyama in whiteness:
The autumn wind.

Tr. Miner, 1976

 whiter than
the stones of Stone Mountain:
autumn's wind

Tr. Barnhill, 2004

 The stone of Ishiyama is indeed white.
But this cold autumn wind
is felt whiter still.

Tr. sigmats, date not available

KIGO for Winter

white paper sliding doors, shirobusuma 白襖
As a preparation for the New Year, the paper doors are newly papered during the winter season.
。。。。。。。。Other winter kigo about the sliding doors
winter sliding door, fuyubusuma 冬襖
sliding door with pictures, ebusuma 絵襖
large sliding doors, oobusuma 大襖
old sliding doors, furubusuma 古襖

paper for sliding doors, fusumagami 襖紙
Chinese paper, karagami 唐紙
sliding doors with Chinese paper, karagami shooji 唐紙障子

Fusuma in the Japanese Home. Gabi Greve

shirobusuma shimete gokusaishiki no yume

closing the white
sliding doors -
dreams of all colors

Miki 如月美樹

... ... ...

gejigeji ya fuu-u no yoru no shirofusuma 

Ein Tausendfüßler -
In der Nacht des Wind und Regens
an der weissen Schiebetür

Hino 日野 草城(1901-1956)
(訳:佐藤 貴白草: SATOH Kihakusoh)

Here the main kigo is the centipede, gejigeji.

a centipede -
the white paper doors
in this rainy night
(Tr. Gabi Greve)

... ... ...

木枯を秘色と したり白襖

Saito Shinji 齋藤慎爾(さいとう しんじ)1939

. Fusuma and Interior of a Japanese home
Kigo for all seasons

ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo

Snow, white as snow, snowman ...

Snowed in, 2004

white roads
leading nowhere -
Happy New Year ?

weisse Strassen
fuehren ins Nichts -
Frohes Neues Jahr ?

Gabi Greve

................. and the whiteout of a fog

fogged in--
so many shapes i've
never before noticed


ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo

"White Bird" Swan, hakuchoo 白鳥
Winter Birds

Worldwide use

Things found on the way

Chart of traditional Japanese colors:

Making cloth from tree bark, vines, hemp or other natural material will always produce some king of brown-green cloth. To make white cloth, people have come up with all sorts of techniques, from simple bleaching (sarashi) in river water or snow to addtions of chemicals.
Once people learned to make white cloth, they could then start anew and dye it with various natural colors.

The death robes for people are white, and someone on a special mission with no way back will wear white robes, like monks on a difficult pilgrimage (shini shoozoku 死に装束).

Doctors and hospital staff wear white robes (hakui, haku-i 白衣).

White pearls were called
masshira no tama 真白の玉


White in the Symbolism of Asia

The West, the White Tiger for the West. Color of the Shang Dynasty.
Mourning robes are in white (or rather unbleached linnen). Never wear anything white on your head.
The Earth-God Guan Yu is an old man with a white face.
White Lotus is a famous secret society.
Woman wishing for a son must give a white flower, preferably white lotus, to the deity.



Symbolism of WHITE
by Pearson Education

A white flag is the universal symbol for truce.

White means mourning in China and Japan.

Angels are usually depicted wearing white robes.

The ancient Greeks wore white to bed to ensure pleasant dreams.

The Egyptian pharaohs wore white crowns.

The ancient Persians believed all gods wore white.

A “white elephant” is a rare, pale elephant considered sacred to the people of India, Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka; in this country, it is either a possession that costs more than it is worth to keep or an item that the owner doesn't want but can't get rid of.

It's considered good luck to be married in a white garment.

White heat is a state of intense enthusiasm, anger, devotion, or passion.

To whitewash is to gloss over defects or make something seem presentable that isn't.

A “white knight” is a rescuer.

A white list contains favored items (as opposed to a blacklist).

A “whiteout” occurs when there is zero visibility during a blizzard.

A “white sale” is a sale of sheets, towels, and other bed and bath items.

A “whited sepulcher” is a person who is evil inside but appears good on the outside, a hypocrite.

“White lightning” is slang for moonshine, a homebrewed alcohol.

A white room is a clean room as well as a temperature-controlled, dust-free room for precision instruments.

White water is the foamy, frothy water in rapids and waterfalls.

© 2000–2006 Pearson Education, publishing as Fact Monster


me ni ureshi koigimi no sen mashiro naru

Yosa Buson (1715-1783)

I enjoy the sight
of my lover's fan -
so white, so white
Tr. Gabi Greve

Read more translations HERE !


White Sweat


marshmallow blossoms -
my sweat turns white
at Mimasaka
(Tr. Gabi Greve)

Sumio Mori

Read about the White Sweat of Jizo Bosatsu

Haiku from Mimasaka Country


Haiga by Denis Matic (17), Romania

. Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 - Archives of the WKD .

海くれて 鴨のこゑ ほのかに白し
umi kurete kamo no koe honoka ni shiroshi

The sea darkens
And a wild duck's call
Is faintly white

(Tr. Makotoa Ueda)

darkening sea-
the cries of wild ducks
faintly white

(Tr. Sonia Coman) www.worldhaikureview.org/4-1

The sea darkening. . .
Oh voices of the wild ducks
Crying, whirling, white

(Tr. Peter Beilenson)

The sea darkenes
voices of seagulls
sound faintly white.


... ... ...

Basho-'s sound of whiteness, and Buson's sound of darkness.
By Hugh Bygott

The last line could have been: honoka ni kiku, "is indistinctly heard." But then Basho-'s poem would be like so many uninteresting modern nature haiku. The clause, "The wild duck's voice is indistinctly white," contrasts with Buson's clause, "The sound is dark." Buson's lines were:

furi-ido ya kani tobu uo no oto kurashi

> Old well -
> fish leap[ing up] at crabs:
> dark is the sound.

> Many attempts have been made to explain Basho-hearing white sound. The fading light, the sea foam, light reflection, even the wild duck's breath have been proposed to explain a situation which is false.
Why has the most obvious explanation not been accepted? Both Basho and Buson are speaking metaphorically. A metaphor is necessarily false, but as a model of reality it brings out something which otherwise would be difficult to say.

Read the full essay here.

... ... ... ... ...

Three Comments on the WHITE in Basho's Haiku

> But Basho deliberately reversed the second and third phrases. He chose to continue lightly with a five-syllable second phrase and end strongly with a seven-syllable third phrase. As a result, the language of the poem does not just trail off; instead, it creates a solid sense of stability."
- Handa

> "Faint white vapor over the sea and a wild duck's call were merged in the poet's sense perceptions. Of course, the whiteness was seen through the eye and the voice was heard through the ear, but he felt as if his eyes saw what his ears heard, and he made that delicate feeling into a poem."
- Iwata

> "The reader should first recognize that the phrase 'a wild duck's call' condenses frigid, nostalgic feelings of the wandering poet who was still on the road near the end of the year. Past commentators on this hokku have paid too much attention to 'faintly white' and so have overlooked this point."
- Ogata

More information on the use of WHITE in this haiku.
Translating Haiku Forum

... ... ... ... ...

The sea darkens:
the voices of wild ducks
are faintly white.

This poem, with its 5/5/7 syllabic irregularity, has been widely praised for its extraordinary depiction of the seascape: as darkness begins to permeate the sea, the faint cry of wild ducks fades into the in¤nite silence; it deepens the stillness, like a piece of whiteness heightens the darkness of the sea.

In this poem, the auditory image, “the voices of wild ducks,” is described with a visual term, “white.” This “transference of the senses”has invited numerous comments. Some readers believe that with “whiteness” Bashô really is not describing sound but something else—the waves, the sea, the vapor over the sea, the color of wild ducks, and so forth.

Others maintain that “whiteness” does indeed depict “the voices,” and this deliberate confusion of senses is a superb rhetorical technique. The “transference of the senses” as a rhetorical device is a familiar element in Japanese poetry. Konishi traces it to “synaesthesia” in classical Japanese poetry and the method of “conceit” derived from the Zhuangzi-style gûgen in earlier haikai.

. . . . . The Zhuangzi uses “whiteness” to represent the attainment of Dao, a state that is born in emptiness and stillness, in which fortune and blessing gather.

Read in conjunction with the Zhuangzi, the image “white” in Bashô’s poem conveys a similar state; it is the poetic figuration of the primal emptiness and stillness the poet perceives when hearing the faint voices of wild ducks fading into the boundless seascape. Through the transferred image, “whiteness,” the poem powerfully creates a tone of kanjaku.

. . . . . Bashô’s treatment of “the voices of wild ducks” employs the same device. The poet would not have had to go to the trouble of breaking the 5/7/ 5 syllabic rule if he had intended to use “whiteness” to describe the sea, the wild ducks, or any visual images. He simply could have placed the second line after the third line, the poem would have been perfectly regular, and the word “white” would have grammatically described the sea or the color of the wild ducks.

Read the discussion of the WHITE of Stone Mountain :
source : Basho-and-the-Dao - Peipei-Qiu

... ... ... ... ...


Read about writing the spacing of this poem.

Se oscurece el mar.
Las voces de los patos
son vagamente blancas.


El mar se oscurece.
Las voces de los patos
son algo blancas
(Tr. Manuel Drezner)

... ... ...

Der See verdämmert,
Und das Gequack der Enten
Ein schwaches Weiß nur.

(Tr. Jan Ulenbrook)

Das Meer wird dunkel.
Ein weißer Schimmer
beim blassen Ruf der Enten.

Tr. and discussion : Thomas Hemstege


An evening orchid,
Hidden in its scent,
The flower's whiteness.

Yosa Buson


白菊の 目に立ててみる 塵もなし
shiragiku no me ni tatete miru chiri mo nashi

Matsuo Basho

white chrysanthemum
without a speck of dust
the eye can catch
trans. Ueda

gazing intently
at the white chrysanthemum--
not a speck of dust
trans. Shirane

white chrysanthemum:
gazing closely,
not a speck of dust

trans. Barnhill


Smell of soap and starch
white sheets
in the morning breeze.

Lanie Shanzyra P. Rebancos, Philippines


In the white wall
a shadow slips away

Gabriela Lovera


NO and GA were used with the same meaning, GA, in old Japanese grammar.

kageroo ya na mo shiranu mushi no shiroki tobu


heat shimmers -
white insects unknown to me
are flying around


heat shimmers -
an unknown white insect
is flying around

"white thing" shiroki (mono), "white insect" shiroki (mushi) ... the part in parenthesis has been abbreviated.
mushi no shiroki tobu =
mushi de shiroi no ga tobu.
an insect (or plural), which is white, is flying.
na mo shiranu .... I do not know their name

As for the Buson white insect, I have the feeling from the language used "mushi no shiroki" , it is just that, a white or whitish insect, because "shiroki tobu" does not make sense in the modern language structure, as a Japanese haiku sensei of NHK explained. I base my translation version on this interpretation.
But there are others, as you can see below.
Tr. Gabi Greve
Reference: NHK Haiku January 2008, Nakaoka Takao Grammar

Translation by Blyth:
Heat waves of spring;
An unknown insect
Is flying whitely.

Blyth includes his translation of the Buson haiku in a discussion of Basho's:

umi kurete kamo no koe honoka ni shiroshi

The sea darkens;
The voices of the wild ducks
Are faintly white.

Basho, trans. Blyth

Blyth says of Buson's haiku, in relation to Basho's, that "there is a verse by Buson that is somewhat more easily assimilable, in which colour is attributed to motion."

Ueda's translation of Buson's haiku:
heat waves--
tiny insects, their name unknown,
are flying in white

Ueda says:
"The heat waves referred to here are the shimmering layers of air that rise above the surface of the earth on a sunny spring day. Encouraged by the warmth, some tiny insects are swarming in the air, each one tracing a gleaming line of white with its flight."

Other translations:

'In the Suburbs' ('Kogai')

In shimmering air --
insects I cannot name,
whiteness afloat.

trans. Sawa and Shiffert

The air shimmers.
Whitish flight
Of an unknown insect.

Buson's poems are descriptive, but their scenery is idealized rather than realistic. This means that he wanted to describe the essence of things, not their surfaces.
However, they depend deeply on the function of Japanese and it is difficult to translate them into foreign languages.

trans. Ryu Yotsuya

Compiled by Larry Bole
Translating Haiku Forum

Related words

***** Grey (hyaku nezu)
and links to other colors

***** Green (midori, ao)

***** Introducing Japanese Traditional Colors
by Gabi Greve

..... Temple Ishiyamadera





Anonymous said...

negi shiroku araitatetaru samusa kana

A pile of leeks
newly washed white—
how cold it is!

Matsuo Basho

anonymous HFB said...

La primavera ha venido.
¡Aleluyas blancas
de los zarzales floridos!

— Antonio Machado

Spring has come.
White hallelujahs
from the brambles in flower!

— translated by Ivan Granger

More is here


Unknown said...

Thank you Gabi san. I studied much about White in Japanese culture.
The white is not only color but including many things.
It is mysterious including religious field.


Gabi Greve said...

Elaine Andre wrote in Joys of Japan
In the Lakota Medicine Wheel (ongoing pattern of life and death):

Yellow - the color of the East, rising sun, Morning Star, Wisdom

Red - the color of the South, warmth, happiness, generosity; connected with the afterlife; nourishment of every kind comes from the south

Black - the color of the West, connected with the power of rain and the purity of water: growth follows the rain... releasing ignorance; home of the Thunder-being whose wings produce thunder and lightening flashes from his eyes... stands against evil, ensuring respect of others

White - the color of the North, home to winter, promotes good health; those who misbehave look to the north for widom to walk a straight path
here is a link to the wheel

anonymous said...

ha-zakura ya shirosa tagaete shio, satoo

leafy cherry tree—
the different whiteness
of salt and sugar

Katayama Yumiko 片山由美子

(Tr. Fay Aoyagi)